2 Unforgettable NICU Dads – And a Tribute to All
You likely thought of him this weekend.
Or the man who was more like a father to you than your own. Or your husband, the father of your unique and beautiful kids.
We celebrated them, called them, mourned the loss of them.
At some point during Father’s Day, a whole different set of dads crept into my consciousness.
Whether I’ve heard them speak at conferences, worked with them in the NICU or read their (few and far between) books, collectively they’ve chiseled lessons in my mind and heart.
Here are 2 stories that changed me. (Some details changed to protect privacy.)
1. Courage Redefined
His young wife died suddenly, necessitating emergency delivery of their son. He sat stunned day after day in the NICU. He held his tiny son skin to skin, a sight that left staff tearful and hopeful all in the same moment.
There is nothing that prepared him for this. (Nothing that prepared us for it either.)
Yet there were fleeting flecks of hope.
The first time the son opened his eyes long enough to focus on his dad’s face. The first bottle. The broad smile of a new dad lost in the irresistible cuteness of his son, taking photo after photo. In those moments the burden of sadness was lifted.
In the NICU we gather those moments like life rings.
We watched him store those moments as gratitude rather than bitterness. We grew from his example.
This strength is unspoken, especially in dads. And often uncelebrated.
He taught me that courage is vulnerability in action.
2. Communication Heals
I read the book Coming to Term by William Woodwell years ago.
This father’s account of he and his wife having twins born at 24 weeks taught me many things, this being but one:
A NICU dad is split in two.
He’s equally fraught about his wife and children. Who does he take care of first? Where should he be? When is itok to leave the NICU and go to work? If they live hours away from the NICU how often should he travel to the NICU while still trying to make ends meet? Will his wife survive her condition? Will his daughters survive their extreme prematurity?
Thanks Mr. Woodwell, for serving up a whole new perspective. For giving me a glimpse into the unique perspective of that divided (or multiplied?) worry and responsibility.
Your story sits on a shelf of favorite books in my office. I work differently with NICU families due to your searing honesty.
Communication improves lives.
These are just 2 stories of hundreds I could tell you about NICU dads, the men that belong to a club they never intended to join.
They crave information, a little joking around here and there to break the tension, a couple hours out with a friend to talk about anything but the NICU or every detail of it. (Oh, and getting a chance to hold their babies without feeling like they’re “taking”the opportunity from mom )
Their tears are often reserved for time alone in the car or in those moments right before sleep, when fear creeps in with the darkness.
Cheers to you, to all of you. For teaching us more than you ever signed up for.
And most of all, for being able to look at your fragile newborn and rewrite the story of fatherhood with hope and a huge dose of what it really means to be brave.